I’ve always been wary of the “you’re in the wrong party” slur. As Emma Burnell pointed out recently, attacking fellow members as “Tories” or “Trots” serves no (positive) purpose – it only serves to divide our movement. It’s not only reductive, it’s manifestly false. If you’re a Labour member than you surely share at least some crucial principles with other party members.
John Hutton’s recent comments made my heart sink, because it’s surely only a matter of time until the former Labour minister is hit with the usual insults – and this time they’ll be utterly deserved.
It’s exactly a year since the chancellor appeared on the Andrew Marr show and announced that Hutton would be assisting the government with their pension reform plans. The party was consumed by the early days of the leadership contest and the trauma of being in opposition – and on the back foot – after thirteen years in power.
John Prescott lashed out at Hutton, labelling him a “collaborator”. He was shunned by the party and placed in the tarnished, untouchable category with the likes of Frank Field, who had also been tasked with “thinking the unthinkable” for the Tories.
And yet there were some in the party – myself included – who were furious with Hutton, and yet believed (somehow) that it was better that a Labour person was involved. That somehow this one person would ameliorate the damage about to be done. That as an alternative to a straight-up Tory set of reforms this would be an improvement.
And yet all along, John Hutton has been the archetype of the fig leaf. Like the Lib Dems, his presence has aided Tory plans, not hindered them. Like one of the useful idiots, he is tasked with heading onto the Sunday news shows (so much for leaving front line politics) and defending the government’s plans. After all, why wouldn’t he? They’re his plans too.
So John Hutton will be reviled by many within the party (although, no doubt, some will complete complex mental gymnastics that allow them to back him). He sold his reputation in retirement for one final spin on the news cycle. He’ll be slapped on the back by Osborne, and told that what he has done is in the national interest.
And as the unions head out onto the streets to defend their pensions (on average a princely £4k per year for a local government worker), he’ll do the rounds again. And he’ll condemn Ed Miliband for not condeming the strikes. He’ll be a pawn in this Tory game as much as Ed Balls believes the unions are. And with every utterance he’ll make a Tory government a little more likely than it was before.
Still, at least he’s a Labour man eh? And how much consolation will that be in 2015…?